Is Richey The Wild Rebel Of Rock Alive Or Dead?

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by Colin Wills

This week's pop charts don't just reveal who's hot and who's not. They also hide a mystery of Agatha Christie proportions... about the disappearance of one of music's most controversial stars.

At Number Two is an album called Everything Must Go, by the Manic Street Preachers. This week the three-man band started touring to promote it.

But it is the man who is NOT on stage who will cause most interest...and sadness.

Sixteen months ago, Richey Edwards, the band's rhythm guitarist, suddenly vanished off the face of the earth.

His car was later found abandoned in a motorway service area a short walk from the Severn Bridge - one of Britain's most notorious suicide spots.

But Richey's body has never been recovered.

It was his desperate, destructive lifestyle that raises the fear that he has become a rock 'n' roll suicide.

Richey, 26, had a history of alcohol abuse, anorexia, and - most alarming of all - self- mutilation. He would regularly slash himself with knives and razors.

But those closest to him refuse to believe he has ended his life. At his parents' bungalow, pictures of Richey as a schoolboy and a student at Cardiff University are everywhere.

They show a boy vastly different from the tortured soul whose disappearance has devastated his family and friends.

"The only way we can get through this is to believe he is still alive," says Richey's father Graham. "That's the only way we can survive."

The timetable of Richey's amazing disappearance began on January 31 last year.

He was due to fly to America to promote the Manics' forthcoming tour and, prior to catching a plane at Heathrow Airport, had booked into the Embassy Hotel in London's Bayswater Road. He was given Room 516, next door to fellow Manic James Dean Bradfield.

The pair had planned to see a film that evening, but at 8.30pm Richey told James he was going to stay in.

James said he'd see him in the morning. But by the time he woke up Richey had gone.

At 7am on February 1, without saying a word to anyone, he walked out of the Embassy Hotel, got into his silver Vauxhall Cavalier, and drove away.

He left behind a packed suitcase, a present for a friend, and the collection of pills he was on for depression and other conditions.

Richey drove the 155 miles along the M4 to his flat in Cardiff. There he left his passport, credit cards and a jar of Prozac - the depressive's "happy drug".

Next day he got into his car and set off again...and nobody knows where.

There was a sketchy sighting of him on February 5 by a 19-year-old student in Cardiff and another two days later by a taxi driver in Newport. Neither are conclusive.

The Cavalier was found abandoned at Aust, the service area on the English side of the Severn Bridge, on February 14. The battery was flat and the interior showed signs of having been slept in. But there was no sign of Richey. Those who know Richey live in hope that he has simply "done a Lucan."

But a disturbing new theory about his death has emerged - pointing solidly towards suicide.

Friends tell of Richey's personality being "taken over" by three people - two real, one fictional.

All three were dark, self-destructive characters...and Richey was obsessed by them.

The first was Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark who was found dead in his London flat in 1991 after a drugs and alcohol binge.

Richey was intrigued by Clark's life, especially how before a show he would panic - even deliberately breaking his knuckles on a washbasin so that he couldn't go on. Richey would talk about chopping off his own fingers.

The second was Pulitzer prizewinning photographer Kevin Carter. Carter travelled the world's war zones, seeking out man's inhumanity to man.

His image of a dying child in Rwanda, with a vulture standing nearby, brought Carter instant fame, but he couldn't cope with it, killing himself shortly afterwards. Richey wrote an entire lyric about him.

The third - and most bizarre of all - was another photographer, this time a movie character, the crazed photo-journalist played by Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Richey identified with him so completely that he even brought the same kind of camera, wearing it round his neck for days on end.

Obsession with this trio may have finally pushed Richey over the edge.

Friends fear his demons told him to leap off that bridge, and the dark waters closed over him.

[Originally published: Sunday Mirror, 2 June 1996]

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